For years, local businesses have been told that customer reviews sites like Yelp can make or break them, but is that still the case?

According to Scott Tzu of Orange Peel Investments, some local business owners are starting to doubt Yelp’s sway:

…many restaurant owners that we have spoken to over the last six months to a year have reiterated their lax attitude on Yelp reviews to us.

The potential anonymity of Yelp and its use as a punching bag for hated figures in the media has given owners and customers alike a healthy dose of skepticism when approaching reviews on any particular restaurant.

Tzu continues…

Formerly, Yelp was in a position of power because restaurants would pay it to be able to manage its page, and restaurateurs were extremely interested in the reviews they got and maintaining high ratings. Yelp was the go-to spot on the web to try and get a heads up on a dining establishment.

Now, customers share some of the same doubts that owners share…

As the market matures, consumer behaviors change

While some data supports Tzu’s argument that “Yelp is beyond its prime years already,” that might be due to growing competition in the space from other players, including Google, Facebook and TripAdvisor.

On the whole, more consumers are now turning to online reviews more than ever before.

But their behavior is also changing. According to BrightLocal’s 2015 Local Consumer Review Survey, “Consumers appear to be forming an opinion faster now than ever before.”

40% of consumers will trust a local business after reading just one to three reviews, and 90% of consumers are ready to make a decision after reading 10 positive reviews.

At the same time, consumers are becoming a tad more skeptical. The vast majority are willing to trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, but only if the reviews are thought to be authentic.

This increased skepticism is not surprising given the rise of fake reviews.

Strength in numbers

Also not surprising is the fact that consumers rely more heavily on star ratings than they do on specific reviews. The implication for businesses: unreasonable reviews from disgruntled customers probably don’t require the legal calvary.

As long as a business is maintaining good ratings on the whole, consumers are probably going to ignore the review by the person who gave a one-star rating because a restaurant didn’t provide free bread.

Some businesses are even having fun with complaints, incorporating them into marketing campaigns, menus and the like.

Put simply, now that online reviews are ubiquitous, the name of the game for most local businesses is to encourage more positive online feedback and gain a critical mass of reviews (and ratings) so that the negative reviews are just noise.